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Iraq, Afghanistan, and a Softer Art of War

New force, old mission.

9:47 AM, Mar 6, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently detailed a new approach to warfare that's worth a look. In two speeches at Kansas State University and Fort Leavenworth, Mullen talked up a massive doctrinal shift in America's approach to warfighting.

"In this type of war, when the objective is not the enemy's defeat but the people's success, less really is more," Mullen said. "Each time an errant bomb or a bomb accurately aimed but against the wrong target kills or hurts civilians, we risk setting our strategy back months, if not years."

Embedded in Mullen's new doctrine is the somewhat controversial notion that troops should assume greater physical risk in order to protect innocent civilians in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. "We protect the innocent," Mullen said. "It is who we are."

Though Mullen's comments are being touted as revolutionary, the change is really just a force-wide implementation of General Petraeus' population-centric COIN strategy that was so successful in Iraq.

The U.S. military is posturing itself as the vanguard of American idealism -- it's less an aggressive fighting force than it is a guardian of individual liberties and inalienable rights. During the Cold War, the Armed Forces fulfilled a similar mission, defending free European nations against Soviet tyranny. That required a military which could shred Russian armored columns and mechanized infantry with frightening kinetic power. Today it's the same duty, only on the micro level. Gone are mass formations of M1 tanks and legions of fighter jets, replaced instead with riflemen standing posts in Middle Eastern marketplaces.  Tyranny still threatens, but it is in the form of militant zealots even more culturally backwards than the Soviets.

Some have argued that this transformation is the most drastic and remarkable shift in U.S. military history. Perhaps, at least structurally. The core mission is unchanged, as our powerful fighting forces remain an arm of the U.S. constitution, and thus the sword and shield of free people everywhere.

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